Chicago’s Lake Michigan lakefront comprises approximately 26 miles of shoreline, 18 miles of recreational trails, and 29 beaches – the majority of which are owned, maintained and managed by the Chicago Park District. The Chicago shoreline has undergone decades of development resulting in a complex assortment of natural and man-made features. Recent historic high lake levels and the potential for repetitive severe storm damage present a unique set of risks.
The Park District is developing a long-term, implementation-focused plan to help guide investment in lakefront repair, maintenance and increased resiliency, which can be leveraged for future partnerships with Federal, State and Local funding partners. The work starts with preparing an inventory and condition assessment of the shoreline protection features. From that, we will be examining each segment of the lakefront and developing a prioritized action plan. The overarching goal is the long-term stewardship of this wonderful asset.
The most recent major rehabilitation efforts were a joint effort for reconstruction of over 9 miles of shoreline protection features undertaken cooperatively by the Park District, City of Chicago and the US Army Corps of Engineers. As a result of successful planning and collaborative implementation, some of the higher risk portions of the lakefront were addressed in a way that added significant parkland, allowed for the creation of new recreational opportunities and amenities, and provided the resiliency to create and enhance ecological resources. This transformative infrastructure investment exemplifies the success the Park District is looking to replicate at other vulnerable sections of the lakefront.
Drone Video Footage
In August 2019, the Park District’s consultant SmithGroup arranged for drone video footage of the Chicago lakefront to be collected by Women and Drones, a Chicago-based Women-Owned Business. The drone footage has several purposes. Firstly, it’s a detailed record of the shoreline features, and can be used to help develop the inventory of all the structures that protect the shoreline. It’s also a useful communication tool among the project participants since it provides a common visual understanding of each part of the lakefront, and can be used as a baseline to examine future changes. View these videos below.
This clip illustrates how the high lake levels are approaching the beach house at Calumet Park, and shows how much of the existing beach is currently underwater.
This clip illustrates the transition between a recently constructed shoreline segment at approximately 45th Street and an area that has not yet been repaired. The new section is built with a sheet pile wall and stepped concrete revetment, after which there is an engineered stone revetment transition, and finally the original “Burnham Plan” shoreline, which is a deteriorated timber wall with displaced limestone blocks.
This clip shows the transition between the south end of Foster Avenue Beach and the 1950s-era revetment comprising steel sheet pile and stepped limestone blocks. The blocks that are closer to the water are subjected to much more wave energy during storms and are not in as good condition as the upper rows of stone.
Loyola Beach Park
This clip illustrates how portions of the beach at Loyola Beach have been vegetated with native plants to recreate a dune habitat. As well as providing valuable habitat for a variety of species, the native dune plants are deep rooted and well adapted to the lakefront conditions and help add resilience by slowing the erosion of beach sand during periods of high lake levels.
Juneway Beach Park
This clip illustrates how the high lake levels had contributed to erosion of a small portion of the parkland behind the beach and revetment at Juneway Beach. Subsequent to this video being taken, storms in October and November caused further damage and erosion, and the Park District and City of Chicago undertook emergency stabilization measures in December 2019, which performed well during the storm of January 11, 2020.